Eye On the Eagles: Scouting Report

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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – A pair of NFC East rivals looking to break two-game losing streaks will clash Thursday night when the Philadelphia Eagles invade MetLife Stadium to face the Giants. The defending Super Bowl champion Eagles lost their previous two games to Tennessee and Minnesota by a combined five points and are 2-3. The Giants are coming off losses to New Orleans and Carolina, the latter on a 63-yard field goal with one second remaining, and are 1-4. In 2017, the Eagles swept the teams’ two games for the third time in four years and now trail in the alltime series, 83-81-2.

What is the Eagles’ biggest strength?

Their proven ability to impose their will on the opposition by controlling the ball and the clock. Philadelphia is second in the NFL with an average time of possession of 32:51. The Eagles ran at least 72 plays in each of their first four games (that number dipped to 55 in their loss to the Vikings). They don’t give their foes a lot of opportunities to get the ball, which keeps their defense fresh. But injuries are starting to weaken the foundation. Leading rusher Jay Ajayi tore his ACL and was placed on injured reserve this week. Receivers Mike Wallace (fractured leg) and Mack Hollins (groin) were already on I.R. Running backs Darren Sproles (hamstring) and Corey Clement (quadriceps) have had trouble staying on the field. Left tackle Jason Peters is still rounding into form after missing all of training camp.

Which player is key to the Eagles’ offense?

Quarterback Carson Wentz missed the season’s first two games as he continued to rehabilitate his knee, which was surgically repaired late last season. He is improving every game and even in defeat on Sunday, he resembled the player who could easily have been selected the NFL’s Most Valuable Player last season. Wentz completed 24 of 35 passes (68.6%) for 311 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions vs. the Vikings. He can take over a game, and has the ability to get the Eagles out of trouble from anywhere on the field.

What is the strength of the Eagles’ offense?

The receiving skills of their tight ends and wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, who has 10 catches in two games after missing the first three games due to offseason shoulder surgery. Coming off his first Pro Bowl, six-year veteran Zach Ertz continues to be one of the go-to receivers in Philadelphia’s passing game. His 41 receptions place him third in the league and are 11 more than any other NFL tight end. The Eagles throw to their tight ends more than any other team, and Ertz’s 58 targets are the league’s fourth-highest total. But he’s isn’t the only tight end on Wentz’s radar. Rookie Dallas Goedert, the team’s second-round draft choice, is improving every game and has 12 catches. Joshua Perkins has five receptions. On third and long, most teams will line up with three wide receivers. Philadelphia is more likely to deploy three tight ends.

Which player is key to the Eagles’ defense?

Three-time Pro Bowler Fletcher Cox, who is either the NFL’s best defensive tackle or someone mentioned very early in the conversation. Cox is a dominant lineman who has long been very difficult to block. The Eagles do a lot schematically to get him one-on-one against the opposing center, a matchup Cox wins with regularity. But Cox is more than just a force in the tackle box. He is an explosive pass rusher and a player who will run all over the field in pursuit of a ballcarrier.

What is the strength of the Eagles’ defense?

Its pass rush ability. Philadelphia has an excellent run defense that shuts down opposing ground games and forces teams to try to pass. That puts the Eagles’ front in advantageous situations where they can tee off on the quarterback. The Eagles have a highly disruptive front that has been credited with 79.5 pressures in five games. In addition to Cox, the disruptors include offseason acquisitions Michael Bennett (three Pro Bowls) and Haloti Ngata (five Pro Bowls), as well as Brandon Graham (who missed the entire preseason with an ankle injury) and Derek Barnett (who started the first four games, but did not play last week because of a shoulder injury).

What is the strength of the Eagles’ special teams? 

The Eagles have a new punter in Australian native Cameron Johnston, who once played for the Casey Scorpions in the Victorian Football League. Johnston also played at Ohio State, where his 46.7-yard average in 2016 ranked first in the Big Ten and fifth in the nation. This season, Johnston leads the NFL with a 50.7-yard gross average and is third with a 43.5-yard net average. He has placed eight punts inside the 20-yard line.

Based on the scouting report, what must the Giants do to win the game?

Don’t turn over the ball, because few teams are as proficient at taking advantage of opponents’ miscues as the Eagles. Their defense has an ability to take over a game, so the Giants’ offense must capitalize on every opportunity to score points. And despite its record this season, Philadelphia has displayed a recent ability to win close games. If it’s tight at the end, the Giants must find a way to prevent that.

Statistics you should know:

*The Eagles again have a dominant run defense. In 2017, they were first in the NFL, allowing only 79.2 yards per game. This season, that figure has dropped to 66.4 yards, and they’ve given up an average of 3.4 yards per rush. Both figures place them second in the league.

*Ertz caught 10 passes for 112 yards at Tennessee and 10 for 110 yards and a touchdown against Minnesota to become the first Eagles player with consecutive games of 10+ receptions and 100+ yards since Pete Pihos from Dec. 4-11, 1955.

*In the same two games, Wentz became the first Philadelphia quarterback to throw for more than 300 yards, at least two touchdowns and no interceptions in back-to-back outings since Randall Cunningham from Sept. 4-12, 1994.

*Kicker Jake Elliott has made eight of 10 field goal attempts, but missed his two longest tries, from 42 and 55 yards.

View the starters for Thursday Night's game against Philadelphia

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